Local permits can often be a roadblock to allowing a small business to actually open its doors to customers. Dealing with permit problems can leave owners in a financial bind.
Before you even register as a corporation, it's crucial to square away all the necessary local permits before you plan on your company's grand opening.
To that end, here are the five most common permits you'll need to enable your small business to open and thrive:
1. Zoning Permits
Almost all major cities -- except Houston (and there may be a few others) -- have commercial zoning laws that prevent certain parcels of land from being used for certain commercial or industrial uses.
Whether you plan on starting a business from the ground up, literally, or you plan to take over and repurpose a current structure, you should consult the local zoning ordinances to see if your business conforms to the current designated use for that area. If your company's main business activities fall outside the zoning in that area, you may need to file an application with the city or county zoning board and be prepared to show building plans.
2. Building Permits
Any sort of new construction or significant renovation for your business will require a building permit from the city or county.
Some cities now offer e-permits for minor construction -- like kitchen remodeling or electrical rewiring -- which can be settled without visiting a local clerk's office.
3. Health Permits
Even if your business is making artisanal bread to sell at farmer's markets, your business well need a permit from the local health department to sell anything other than fresh produce.
That means all restaurants and food-related businesses should make getting a health permit a necessity.
4. Signage Permits
One of the best ways to advertise your business' existence is with a brand-new, flashy sign, but altering an existing sign or installing a new one requires a local signage permit from the city or county.
Larger cities like San Francisco have more specific rules about signage requirements, and any sign that needs to be physically built on to an existing structure may also require a separate building permit.
5. Fire Permits
Restaurants and businesses that plan to store flammable or explosive materials will need to obtain a permit from the local fire department before being legally allowed to open for business.
Applications will typically require a detailed description of the building's uses along with fire safety systems (e.g. smoke detector, fire extinguisher, fume hood, etc.) and will likely require an inspection by the fire department before it is granted. Not only will the permit keep your business legal to operate, but it will help out if you ever have to file a fire insurance claim.
Lacking these permits can easily put your small business dreams on ice, so if you have any questions about whether your company needs a specific permit consult an experienced business attorney in your area.